Until recently, the Indiana Senate GOP primary has looked like a contest between two experienced politicians, congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita. But now there is a plot twist: a dark horse candidate has come out of nowhere and established himself as a serious contender. Businessman and Indiana State Representative Mike Braun has slowly but steadily crept up on the two big contenders, and now we have a three-way toss up between candidates who all appear on the surface to have satisfactory conservative records.
As much as this increases the excitement of the race, it makes my job a lot harder, not only because of the heightened uncertainty of the primary, but also due in part to the difficulty in pinning down just exactly what kind of Republican Mike Braun is. For everything there is to like about him, there is also plenty to dislike.
Before we get into the thick of it, some background information is necessary. Mike Braun is the founder and CEO of Meyer Distributing and owner of Meyer Logistics. Interestingly enough, just like Messer and Rokita, Braun is a graduate of Indiana’s Wabash College; however, while Messer and Rokita are trained as lawyers, Braun earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.
His political experience is sparse, only having previously served on his local school board and a brief stint in the Indiana House of Representatives. As a result, there’s not a lot of data out there for me to use to quantify his conservative record. With Messer and Rokita, I had the luxury of NumbersUSA’s scorecard system, but no similar grading exists for Braun. None of the legislation he sponsored as a state representative is of any relevance either.
The metrics I could come up with though, are scorecard grades from the Indiana branch of Americans for Prosperity (which grades based on fiscal conservatism) and from the American Conservative Union (which grades based on establishment GOP conservatism). Americans for Prosperity gave Braun an 80% rating while the American Conservative Union gave him a lifetime average rating of 82%. These numbers don’t say much about what we’re interested in, but they do at least provide passing grades for a standard-bearer GOP test. Economics takes a backseat to immigration for us, but I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that Braun received a 94% rating from the National Federation of Independent Business and a 93% rating from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Moving on to his stances as listed by his campaign website, things become a little clearer. Like Rokita, he also has a “drain the swamp” section on his website and based on what I’ve seen it appears he’s trying to take the same angle Trump did, positioning himself as an outsider with the business acumen to put voters back to work.
On immigration, his website is completely on board with Trump. He advocates for the wall, cracking down on sanctuary cities, ending chain migration, and instituting national e-Verify. This all looks promising, but since he doesn’t have a voting record to back it up I’m maintaining some healthy skepticism until he fully convinces me of his positions.
I’m also skeptical because public documents obtained by the Associated Press reveal that Braun voted as a Democrat for over a decade in Indiana primaries up until as recently as 2012. To make matters worse, a voter database maintained by the Republican National Committee identified him as a “Hard Democrat.”
In Indiana, voters don’t have to register with a party. Instead, party affiliation is determined by how one votes in a primary (i.e. voting in a Democratic primary would automatically register you as a Democrat). This fact raises questions about his 2014 run for the Indiana House of Representatives since the records indicate he would have been a registered Democrat through 2012. Changing your party affiliation months before you decide to run for office is not good optics. Despite all this, his campaign maintains he was never a Democrat.
So that may not matter to you, but a point of concern that should matter to you involves a former staffer who Braun fired and denounced. One of the contracted staffers hired to gather ballot signatures for Braun’s Senate campaign was ousted as a White nationalist after some online sleuthing revealed he was the former chairman of the National Youth Front. Instead of taking the Trump route and refusing to admonish the staffer, Braun and his team promptly terminated and condemned him. That should erase any illusion you may have that Mike Braun is /our guy/.
Moving on to finances, there’s more similarity with Trump’s campaign. Business clearly made Mike Braun very wealthy—he has invested roughly $800,000 of his own money into his campaign. In addition to this impressive self-funding, he has also raised over $200,000 from donors. In spite of his wealth, Braun’s war chest is still dwarfed by the massive amounts of money held by both Messer and Rokita’s campaigns. However, for some context, Braun didn’t enter the race until much later than either of his opponents, having only thrown his hat in the ring back in August.
Though the primary now stands as a three-way toss up, the momentum will likely pick up after the first Republican debate scheduled for February 20th. The debate will be hosted by Americans for Prosperity and will feature the big three candidates along with three other less relevant candidates. I anticipate a fairly brutal fight. For months now, Rokita and Messer have exchanged blows, and their deep-rooted rivalry has really come out. Braun’s strategy appears to be to wait it out and let the two fight each other so that he can swoop in and pull the nomination right out from under them.
As it stands now, it’s anyone’s race. I am still admittedly biased in favor of Rokita, but I think he has a realistic shot at winning it all. Let me know what you guys think in the comment section.